Art worlds connect at Arizona-Mexico border event

Ballet Folclórico Aztlán, which opened the Binational Border Performance in Agua Prieta, Sonora, on Saturday, celebrates the unity of art and music through traditional folkloric dance. Performers in Douglas simultaneously did the same thing. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

AGUA PRIETA, Mexico – Dancers, artists and residents from Arizona and Sonora joined forces Saturday as part of the final performance of the “Shared Spaces: An Evening of Dance, Music and Poetry at the US/Mex Border.”

Dozens of people gathered near the Douglas port of entry, which separates Douglas and Agua Prieta, Sonora, to promote cultural awareness and encourage dialogue about social justice issues affecting the borderlands.

The event stage, half in Arizona and half in Mexico, brought young dancers from both Mexico and the United States, some in traditional Mexican outfits, to perform Mexican folkloric music, modern jazz pieces and a composition that took inspiration from the student performers.

“Borders are – a lot of times – seen as something that separates, and today I think we proved that a border can be something that connects,” said Ana Maria Alvarez, the 2018 artist for the Binational Arts Residency, a female-led collaborative that directed the border performance.

Binational Arts Residency artist Ana Maria Alvarez talks to performers on both sides of the border in Agua Prieta, Sonora, and Douglas before Saturday's border performance. Her mission is to connect communities across the Sonoran Desert through the arts. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Alexa Enriquez, 14, of Ballet Folclórico Aztlán, is the last to spin her bright pink folkloric skirt during the binational performance in Agua Prieta, Sonora. Enriquez said her involvement was significant because the dance is something beautiful and native to Mexico. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Ballet Folclórico Aztlán performs traditional folkloric dance in Agua Prieta, Sonora, emphasizing Mexican folk culture through attire, exaggerated movements and choreographed arrangements. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Cristo Caleb Lozano Sanchez paints on the Border Arts Corridor art installation in Agua Prieta, Sonora, during Saturday's arts performance. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Members of dance groups Angeles de Agua Prieta and Ballet Folclórico Aztlán held hands through the U.S.-Mexico border fence before the performance. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Creating a sense of unity by holding hands with people from Agua Prieta and Douglas, Ana Maria Alvarez asks performers what they hope to accomplish with their performance. "Unity!" one man shouted to resounding cheers. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

People from both sides of the border sang and danced along to "La Frontera" after the binational arts performance Saturday in Agua Prieta, Sonora, and Douglas. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Ana Maria Alvarez, the Binational Arts Residency artist, said the border-straddling performance was meant to create human connections and "duality where duality doesn't exist." (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Alexa Enriquez, 14, has been a part of Ballet Folklorico Aztlan for eight months. She was one of the performers from the Mexico side, and she said she felt a sense of pride while dancing.

“All of this is a beautiful experience,” she said in Spanish. “It is something that I’ve never done before. I am very happy to be a part of this experience and proud to be in Mexico.”

On the Sonoran side of the border, Tolley Rippon, a student and fine arts lab tech from Cochise College in Douglas, spearheaded art activities, which included encouraging children to paint on white canvases.

“To be down in this area and experience this whole culture, at first, was slightly overwhelming and is now one of the most beautiful things that I’ve participated in,” said Rippon, who originally is from Oregon.

Several participants said the performance played an important role in highlighting the value of close relationships between the arts communities in Arizona and Sonora.

“We want to empower our youth and our artists in this area because the borderlands are such a fertile space for creative expression,” said Jenea Sanchez, founder of the arts organization Border Arts Corridor.

Gabriella Munoz, the artist programs manager at the Arizona Commission on the Arts, said their efforts highlighted “the expertise of our multiple artistic communities and the vibrancy of those communities.”

At the end of the event, performers and spectators gathered along the metal border fence, reached through the narrow bars and touched hands.

“That was definitely something that was not scripted,” Sanchez said. “It was spontaneous, and I think that it stemmed from the feeling that the artistic expression left in all of us – we just wanted to touch, physically.”

Although a wall divides the two communities, she said, “we are trying to show the world that truthfully we are one people.”

As the festivities ended, Sonorans went home through the colorful but dilapidated buildings near Agua Prietas’ industrial sector, while Arizonans headed to a commercial parking lot.

“At the border everything is possible,” a banner read in Spanish.

Alvarez, one of the event’s choreographers, called the experience a whirlwind of creative inspiration.

Performers from Douglas hold hands with people in Agua Prieta after their dance performance. “La gente de Douglas y Agua Prieta are one people,” said Jenea Sanchez, director of Border Arts Corridor in Douglas. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

“The amount of deep personal connections, the sharing of stories that has happened … honestly it’s given me so much hope for humanity,” she said. “It’s a testament to how this giant fence, made of metal, is really just that. … It’s a reflection of what could be possible if our governments could participate with each other in this way.”

Agua Prieta resident Carla Gonzalez, 11, wearing a traditional Mexican beauty pageant dress and accessories in a style known as China poblano – was among those who lingered after the performance.

“I hope that we can continue doing more things like this so that the children can learn that we are not two, we are one,” she said in Spanish.

“Like they say, ‘without borders.’ ”

Cronkite News reporters Lillian Donahue and Melina Zuniga contributed to this article.

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